Guns and Whiskey – At the Olympics?

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I have to admit to being a rabid Olympics fan. I’m a mediocre fan of sports overall. I enjoy watching grand slam tennis events and am known to watch football and baseball games if my husband has them on, but rarely do I purposely turn on the TV in search of sports. Until the Olympics come around. When Team USA plays, I set my schedule around being in front of the TV to cheer on my country.

Virginia Thrasher OlympicsOur first gold medal of the 2016 games was awarded to a young, 19-year-old shooter by the name of Virginia Thrasher. Watching this cool-as-a-cucumber athlete, reminded me of Annie Oakley and all the talented shooters who came from an era when guns were necessary to keep food on the table and danger from the door.

As it turns out, shooting was one of the original events at the first modern Olympics in 1896. There were 5 different shooting events, 2 for rifles and 3 for pistols. And of the 8 athletes representing the United States at the games in Athens, 2 of them were shooters. Brothers John and Sumner Paine from Harvard. Lieutenant John B. Paine happened to be a member of the Boston Athletic Club, which was the organization that sent a handful of athletes to compete at the newly organized games. John’s brother, Sumner was in Paris, France at the time, working as a gunsmith. After deciding to make the trip to Greece to compete, John stopped by France on his way in order to invite his brother to come along.

Sumner is seated on the floor second from the left and John is sitting on the floor second from the right.
Team USA in 1896 Olympics. Sumner Paine is seated on the floor second from the left and John Paine is sitting on the floor second from the right.

Not knowing what weapons they would need, they packed an arsenal: two Colt army revolvers, two Smith & Wesson Russian model revolvers, a Stevens .22 caliber pistol, a Wurfflein, two pocket weapons, and 3,500 rounds of ammunition.* They entered all 3 pistol events. Unfortunately, they were excluded from the rapid fire pistol competition because their .22 caliber pistols were disqualified as not being standard issue.

The shooting house was built of white marble, and they shot at a black bull’s-eye with a white dot inside.

Using their Colt revolvers, John and Sumner dominated the 25 meter military pistol event. John took first place with a score of 442. Sumner took second with a score of 380. The next closest opponent scored 205. The brothers had decided privately that whoever won the first event would bow out for the second, so John withdrew from the 30 meter free pistol event, leaving Sumner to capture first place easily with the same score his brother had earned in the previous round – 442. They only needed 96 rounds from the 3,500-round stash of ammunition to win their events.

Sumner Paine
Sumner Paine

John and Sumner Paine were the first US athletes to win gold at the Olympics.

Where does the whiskey come in, you ask? Well, according to eye-witness accounts, the Paine brothers paused between rounds to sip whiskey from flasks when tensions ran high. By the next day, all the other competitors decided to follow suit.* I don’t think these fellows would have passed the anti-doping regulations of today.

Being an Olympic shooting champion has it’s advantages, though. One night in 1901, Sumner Paine came home to find his wife in bed with his daughter’s music teacher. He drove the man away with four shots from a .32 caliber pistol. He was briefly jailed and charged with assault, but Paine was released when the police found his medal and realized he must have missed on purpose.

  • What are your favorite Olympics events?

*Information taken from:


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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at:

25 thoughts on “Guns and Whiskey – At the Olympics?”

    • So glad you enjoyed it, Eliza. I had fun researching the early Olympics and the Paine brothers. You never know what gems you’re going to turn up when you start digging. 🙂

    • I do, too, Debra. My daughter and I watched the women’s team competition last night. Our girls did such a great job! No major mistakes even under all that pressure. Hope they continue to excel in the all-around and individual events. Go Team USA!

  1. Thank you for your great post. I, like you, LOVE the Olympics. The sheer endurance of these athletes to practice hour upon hour, day after day, is amazing to me. I love so many of the sports….swimming, gymnastics, beach volleyball pairs, tennis, rifle shooting, the list goes on and on.

    • I agree completely, Melanie. I will watch sports during the Olympics that I never watch otherwise. Like Equestrian. Love watching those gorgeous horses jumping during the cross-country events as well as the show jumping. it might be more English than Western in origins, but I still love watching a talented horse-and-rider team work together so well. And it’s the only even where men and women compete against each other. (People and horses, ha!) Gotta love that!

  2. Loved those facts. I really love al lof it and am especially enjoying the gymnastics and swimming at the moment but there isn’t any event I won’t watch!

  3. Great post. I enjoy the Olympics too. I guess that shooting was something they did well. I really like the equestrian events too. Horses are something that has held my interest for a long time.

    • I love the equestrian events, too! Those horses are so gorgeous and watching them jump just takes my breath away. I especially enjoy the cross-country round. Helps me imagine what it would have been like a century or so ago. 🙂

  4. Thank you Karen for this very interesting post! I never knew much about Olympic history,and definitely didn’t know it was so colorful! (Although one part of Olympic history I always liked was when Jesse Owens won during the 1936 Berlin Games.) As for favorite events in the Summer Games; I would say my two favorites are Swimming and Gymnastics. Thanks again for filling us in on all this wonderful history!

  5. I am missing many of the events because Nicaragua tv is stuck on swimming! But my cross stitch and rocker will wait till that runs out for the next…

    What do you like to stitch?

  6. I am also a cross-stitcher as well as a reader. I do not watch the Olympics a lot, but I do some. I loved reading how Sumner Paine was released from jail. It made for a good chuckle. (Some things strike me funny that maybe shouldn’t.)

  7. Congrats on the swimmers and gymnastics for all there wins. I know there more but its what the national news reports. One runner celebrated a gold win and a birthday the next day way to go.

  8. I am enjoying them all this year. There doesn’t seem to be much questionable scoring that ruins so many events. Scoring in some events has been on the low side, but that has been true across the board within the event. The athletes are doing well and importantly seem to be having a great time. There has been a nice show of sportsmanship and camaraderie among everyone there.

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